KARACHI: After a gloomy Friday when as many as 16 foreigners — 14 players and two coaching-staff members — pulled out of the HBL Pakistan Super League 2020, Saturday was relatively calm with all the franchises reporting no further withdrawals in the wake of pandemic outbreak of coronavirus.
The latest pullouts were from the squad of Islamabad United which announced late on Friday night that Luke Ronchi, Colin Munro, Dawid Malan and Dale Steyn along with trainer Corey Rutgers would not take any further part in the tournament and were immediately returning home.
The tournament had already lost its sheen earlier on Friday when the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), through a media release, stated that 10 players belonging to four franchises had cut short their stay in Karachi.
The biggest sufferers were Peshawar Zalmi who lost all their overseas signings among the playing staff with the exit of English quartet of Liam Livingstone, Liam Dawson, Tom Banton and Lewis Gregory along with West Indies all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite, while among the support staff former England wicket-keeper James Foster has also opted out.
Multan Sultans — who sealed a narrow three-run victory against 2017 PSL champions Peshawar Zalmi on Friday night in the first of three matches to be played at the National Stadium behind closed doors — had James Vince and Rilee Rossouw quitting earlier in the afternoon. Their squad was slated to leave for Lahore late on Saturday afternoon to take Lahore Qalandars in the last of preliminary-round matches at the Gaddafi Stadium.
Quetta Gladiators, who are battling to stay in the tournament as they languish at the base of the six-team standings, now have to cope without England 50-over World Cup-winning side batsman Jason Roy and left-arm speedster Tymal Mills the defending champions do battle with Karachi Kings in the final league encounter here on Sunday evening.
Karachi Kings, meanwhile, were playing Islamabad United when this report was being filed, just a day after being deprived of the services of currently out-of-favour England batsman Alex Hales. A victory against Islamabad United, the only franchise to bag the PSL trophy twice (in 2016 and 2018), will guarantee Imad Wasim’s side a second-place finish irrespective of results of Sunday’s double-headers.
On the other hand, Islamabad United must defeat Karachi Kings to stand any chance of qualifying for Tuesday’s semi-finals in Lahore where the final would now take place on Wednesday as per the revised schedule.
But regardless of where the teams stand at present, only Multan Sultans are already confirmed to top the final league-stage standings even if they drop their game against the Qalandars, for whom victory on Sunday will push them into the knockout phase for the first time in five editions after having finished at the bottom over the previous four seasons.
Whatever the permutations on offer for teams still fighting it out, the backend of the preliminary phase of PSL V couldn’t have been more dramatic with everyone left guessing about the full last-four pairings.
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2020